Top tips - managing change

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Posted by APM on 14th Mar 2011

Following a session delivered in partnership with Bupa in November last year, the APM People SIG would like to offer up some useful pointers for project managers when managing change on a project.

Below are what we consider some of the ‘top tips’ from the content covered during the event that we hope can be easily adopted by PMs and applied to almost any project at anytime.

These are not new or ground breaking ideas but given that we would probably all admit we haven’t quite got every aspect of project management perfect just yet we feel they are worth repeating

Thank you to David Coombes, the Bupa Change Practice Manager in particular who worked with the APM in delivering an informative insight into the building refurbishment and staff relocation project, a case study in change management within a project.

Tip 1 - Recruit a change manager onto the team, wherever and whenever possible

This may not always be realistic and will, in part, be subject to the complexity of the project. However, at the very least ensure the function of change management is clearly assigned to a member of the team (it doesn’t necessarily need to be the project manager themselves)

Tip 2 – Take stock of your personal perception of change

Change is naturally unnerving and as humans we are conditioned to assume a negative stance in any new or different situation. Accept and acknowledge this, both in yourself and your team. It is inevitable and healthy (to a point). However, as the project manager you have a responsibility in your leadership capacity to both manage your own perception of change as it will consciously and subconsciously impact the project team and to influence the perceptions of change within the team.

There are several techniques to do this. One very effective way is to adjust the language you use. A simple reframing of words and phrases can redress the balance when the pessimism of change arises. Examples include the following:

From
To
This project is failing
There's a lot we need to get right on this project
If only we had met that milestone
The next milestone is already on course
I hope we can manage the risks better
I know we can manage the risks better
This project is going to cause real problems
This project is going to create lots of opportunities

Tip 3 - Invite change representatives from stakeholder groups

Coping with change in any project is far more efficient when done collectively. Once the nature of the change is clear, invite members of each stakeholder category to represent their group and sincerely get them involved. Ensure especially that all levels of the organisation’s hierarchy are represented. Front line staff know how frontline staff think, feel and behave far better than senior management for example and vice versa

Tip 4 - Follow as much as you lead

While as project manager you assume the role of project ‘leader’ as the need arises, your influence is only as effective as your own ability to follow. Any project could arguably succeed in the absence of a leader but a leader certainly can’t manage a project without a team of ‘followers’. In real terms this means the project team must believe in the message and credibility of the project leader. In order to achieve this the project manager should simultaneously know when to be a ‘follower’. At its simplest level this means listening effectively and objectively to the team’s concerns, issues and ideas, and adopting them as and when they bring benefit to the project. In the words of John Marshall;

“To listen well is as powerful a means of communication and influence as to talk well”

(Founder of the Supreme Court of the United States 1755-1835)

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